Dean Poiger in Snell Libary

Dean’s Welcome


Dean Uta G. PoigerHeadshot of Uta Poiger

North­eastern Uni­ver­sity Provost Stephen W. Director announced the appoint­ment of Uta G. Poiger as dean of the Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties, effec­tive July 1, 2013. An accom­plished scholar of his­tory and gender studies, Poiger served as the interim dean of the col­lege during the 2012–13 aca­d­emic year.

In his announce­ment to all fac­ulty and staff, Director wrote that Poiger “has pro­vided strong lead­er­ship, fos­tering an envi­ron­ment of coop­er­a­tion and for­ward thinking and has been a strong advo­cate for inter­dis­ci­pli­nary schol­ar­ship and research ini­tia­tives.” He con­tinued on to say, “Under her lead­er­ship, I expect that the Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties will reach new levels of excel­lence in teaching and research. Her com­mit­ment to inter­dis­ci­pli­nary inquiry will con­tinue CSSH on its path toward becoming a global hub for use-​​inspired human­i­ties and social sci­ence research.”

In her role as interim dean, Poiger advanced inter­dis­ci­pli­nary schol­ar­ship through key hires and fos­tered inter­dis­ci­pli­nary research ini­tia­tives. In par­tic­ular, she was instru­mental in strength­ening the NULab for Texts, Images, and Net­works, where human­ists, social sci­en­tists, and com­puter sci­en­tists col­lab­o­rate on projects such as “Our Marathon: The Boston Bombing Dig­ital Archive.” She has encour­aged new oppor­tu­ni­ties for under­grad­uate and fac­ulty research and has enhanced sup­port for fac­ulty and grad­uate stu­dent research.

“A lib­eral arts edu­ca­tion, for majors and for non-​​majors, is cru­cial for informed cit­i­zen­ship,” Poiger said. “It is vital in a world that is becoming smaller, in a world in which our stu­dents will switch jobs many times, and in a world in which they will interact with ever more diverse sets of people. In CSSH, fac­ulty and stu­dents work together to find responses to the pressing polit­ical and social ques­tions of today, to foster eth­ical reflec­tion and crit­ical thought, and to focus atten­tion on the enduring sig­nif­i­cance of his­tory and cul­ture. In short, CSSH has a cen­tral role in ful­filling Northeastern’s ambi­tion of edu­cating global leaders.”

As interim dean, Poiger worked with fac­ulty and depart­ment chairs to explore how they could assist stu­dents in making expe­ri­en­tial learning part of their intel­lec­tual auto­bi­ogra­phies. In addi­tion, she built better com­mu­ni­ca­tion with and recruit­ment of prospec­tive stu­dents, and under her lead­er­ship, the Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties saw a marked increase in enrolled freshmen. She also enhanced grad­uate funding and encour­aged depart­ments to admit smaller, stronger cohorts of PhD students.

Poiger co-​​chairs the Pres­i­den­tial Council on Inclu­sion and Diver­sity that was cre­ated by North­eastern Pres­i­dent Joseph E. Aoun in Feb­ruary 2013 to assess the university’s civic sus­tain­ability and develop prac­tical ways to strengthen Northeastern’s diver­sity infra­struc­ture. In that role, she led the orga­nizing com­mittee for a year-​​long series of seven campus events hosted by Dis­tin­guished Uni­ver­sity Pro­fessor Michael Dukakis on “Con­flict, Civility, Respect, Peace: North­eastern Reflects.”

“Given the end­less com­plex­i­ties of today’s world, a grounding in the social sci­ences and human­i­ties is essen­tial for our stu­dents,” Aoun said. “Uta Poiger under­stands this, and she pos­sesses the vision needed to expand Northeastern’s impact on these crit­ical fields—and on new fields that are being invented at the inter­sec­tion of dis­ci­plines. I look for­ward to working with her on these exciting opportunities.”

Poiger has pub­lished and pre­sented exten­sively on the Cold War, Germany’s inter­na­tional rela­tions, the impact of Amer­ican cul­ture in Europe, and gender and racial for­ma­tions. She is part of the edi­to­rial col­lec­tive of Fem­i­nist Studies and the chair of the nom­i­nating com­mittee for the Modern Europe sec­tion of the Amer­ican His­tor­ical Association.

She joined North­eastern in 2011 as chair of the Depart­ment of His­tory. In that role, she led the strategic plan­ning effort, over­hauled the doc­toral pro­gram for shorter time to degree, and oversaw the hiring of new fac­ulty members.

Prior to joining North­eastern, Poiger was the grad­uate pro­gram chair in the Depart­ment of His­tory at the Uni­ver­sity of Wash­ington, where she held the Gio­vanni and Amne Costigan Endowed Pro­fes­sor­ship. She was a vis­iting asso­ciate pro­fessor of his­tory and lit­er­a­ture at Har­vard Uni­ver­sity, where she was later a vis­iting scholar at the Minda da Gun­zburg Center for Euro­pean Studies. From 2000-​​05, she was director of the Insti­tute for Transna­tional Studies at Washington’s Jackson School for Inter­na­tional Studies.

Poiger began her studies at Albert-​​Ludwigs-​​Universität in Freiburg, Ger­many. She holds a master’s degree in Amer­ican his­tory from the Uni­ver­sity of Mass­a­chu­setts at Amherst. In 1995, she earned a PhD in his­tory from Brown University.

Campus Speeches/Remarks


Remarks at the Occasion of Toni Morrison’s Visit to Celebrate the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project at Northeastern University

Uta G. Poiger
Interim Dean, College of Social Sciences and Humanities

January 18, 2013

It is an immense honor and delight for all us at Northeastern to welcome Toni Morrison to our campus.

I would like to thank Margaret Burnham and the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project for inviting us to collaborate on Professor Morrison’s visit with the Northeastern Humanities Center, which is housed in my college. It is a special privilege to do so at the occasion of Martin Luther King Day.

Toni Morrison continues to have an immense impact on intellectual, artistic, and public life not just in this country but around the world. When we announced that Toni Morrison was coming, it was easy to identify at least seven classes in my college, the College of Social Sciences and Humanities, in which students are reading her work this year.

From her first novel The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison has been a pioneer. So often she has been the one to reflect on themes before others were able to articulate them. In The Bluest Eye written in the 1960s such themes included not only beauty and racialization, but also incest and sexual abuse. These topics made some want to ban the book from public libraries.

I myself, a historian, have taught Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye in a class on beauty and the body. This class asks students to think about how modes of racialization intersect with notions of beauty. I can’t think of a better book with which to introduce these themes. The narrator’s statement in that novel that “romantic love” and “physical beauty” are “[p]robably the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought” remains a highly productive provocation.

In ways that are so very compelling, Toni Morrison combines the representation of the singular—for example Pecola Breedlove’s destruction in The Bluest Eye– with insight into the systemic–for example into racial and gender prejudice or poverty.

Toni Morrison is that rare combination of the artist who pioneers new aesthetic modes and who at the same time challenges us to think from new angles about the difficulties, injustice, and possibilities of past and present.

Earlier today I had the privilege of witnessing eighteen of our Northeastern students discuss The Bluest Eye with the Toni Morrison. The students had participated in a workshop with Professor Kimberly Brown from our English Department.

That conversation was such a powerful reminder why a Humanities education matters in our world today–why the humanities need to be a central part of the education of any student in any field—and why a Humanities education matters as we are working to educate responsible global citizens.

Now, you might say that it is easy to have a stimulating teaching conversation with one of the greatest living writers today.  But the conversation was paradigmatic of what a Humanities education does.

The conversation revealed ethical reflection, it revealed critical thought, and it revealed recognition of difference. And these insights and skills are exactly what conversations about great literature can foster.

Each of us, I am sure, can come up with quotes from Toni Morrison that suddenly allowed us to see the world in a new light.

Let me give you a couple more that I find compelling. Toni Morrison is among so many other things a philosopher of language. In her 1993 Nobel Prize acceptance speech one can find the following rumination. She describes “language partly as a system, partly as a living thing over which one has control, but mostly as agency – as an act with consequences.”

Language as an act with consequences–that too is an insight that education in the Humanities and Social Sciences instills.

Finally let me cite a very different quote from Toni Morrison’s tenth novel Home where she describes older women tending to a sick woman.

“[They practiced what they had been taught by their mothers during the period that rich people called the Depression and they called life.”

With such a concise sentence, Toni Morrison captures multiple dimensions of past and present.

Toni Morrison has the ability to tell us stories of devastation and hope, yet she always makes it clear that there is no simple individual pathology. Again and again she is able to make us think about the systemic through the singular.

Thank you Margaret Burnham and the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project for bringing Toni Morrison here, and thank you, Toni Morrison, for joining us today at Northeastern!